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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Budgie

The BBC Recordings

Review by Bruce Stringer

This compilation of rare live recordings between 1972 and 1982 shines a light on the maturity of the Welsh heavy rock outfit, including the raw energy that they are most known for and a few odd but exciting moments along the way. The chronology jumps about but there is an intriguing continuity that illustrates the differences between the guitarists and the band’s overall stylistic changes. The recordings range from a concert in 1972, to John Peel’s show in 1976, to two Reading Festivals in the ‘80s and a Friday Rock Show performance.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Rape Of The Locks
Recorded at the Paris Theatre in 1972, it is interesting to hear how rough and ready the trio known as Budgie can be. With an almost Black Sabbath heaviness with distorted bass, the changes in tempo are fat and nasty. Burke Shelley’s bass work supports Tony Bourge’s rapid fire guitar lead in an improvisational mass of sonic abuse always returning to the song structure for repeated torture of the eardrums.

Rocking Man
This early classic Budgie anthem is at its rawest with grungy guitar and loose feel. Even with the speeding up and missed notes, the sheer energy is amazing – at times even equaling the recorded studio version. There are moments of out of tune instruments but it all adds to the fury. 

Young Is A World
Although more of an atmospheric album track that develops over time, “Young Is A World” manages to work well in the live environment alongside the heavier numbers. There are obviously fewer effects (if any) but the magic is evident – even with the tape source limitations. The more raucous sections smack of the overdriven Trapeze number, “Medusa,” which counter the softer, jazzier moments.

Hot As A Docker’s Armpit
This final number from 1972 begins with Bourge beating up his guitar before bass and drums begin in a cacophony of liquid heat. The voluminous power, at times, overtakes Shelley’s vocals as he competes with the tidal wave of molten blues-rock. The audience, shell shocked and slightly worse for wear, let loose and bring the flood gates down with well-earned applause.

Breaking All The House Rules
With Myf Issacs on second guitar, the band took to the stage at Reading in 1980 with a new lineup, new album and new energy. The guitar sound of John Thomas has a more harsh, top-end presence than his predecessor but provides the listener with an interesting alternative to the bluesier sounding original. Clocking in at just over 7 minutes, this all out assault is well received.

Crime Against the World
This newer number, from the ‘80s lineup, doesn’t stray far from the straight 4/4 rock that AC/DC had defined with their Back In Black album. Even Thomas’ solo work is reminiscent of Angus Young. Of the 80s material it is songs like this that stand up under the scrutiny of time. It’s great head banging rock ’n’ roll!

Napoleon Bona Part One & Two
Shelley bursts forth with the obligatory, “We wanna see you shaking for this number…” but, quite anti-climactically asks the audience to take it easy until the song gets going – another great example of his Welsh wit and humor! Napoleon has been a staple of the Budgie set list since its graceful entry on the Bandolier LP of 1975 and it’s always great to compare lineups and versions. The new guitar hero does his best impression of his predecessor and manages to throw in a few more contemporary licks (circa 1980) that are as apt as the overdriven sound that he has brought to the fore.

Forearm Smash
Again, sounding more like AC/DC than Budgie, this 4-to-the-floor rocker has an almost US-sounding western riffiness, quite unlike previous Budgie releases. It appears to be a simple vehicle for letting down one’s hair and grooving and makes no apologies.

Panzer Division Destroyed
The slower stop-start motions of “Panzer Division Destroyed” could be a little epileptic but is great in that it steps up from the batter’s plate and simply smashes the ball forward without excuses. There are a couple of moments of rough ambition but they never take away from the harder edge. Thomas’ guitar is well suited to this type of thing, more so than some of the earlier songs, but the audience appreciation is of a grateful nature, never once complaining of new blood in the old shell.

Wildfire
Back to the rock-by-numbers template, Wildfire is another track along the lines of the style from Power Supply (but is actually from an EP from the same period). This is probably not an indication of what attracted me to the Welsh trio, as the band was now a totally different unit, however they do shine on numbers like this – albeit in a different way.

Breadfan
This un-aired version of “Breadfan” – referred to here as the “lost edition” – is rough and raw and a little open ended. The tight bits are tight and the other sections are as one would expect but I kept harking back to the Tony Bourge versions. Maybe the recording of this set has given a clearer indication as to what is actually going on in the mix but the extended guitar solo seems to be so very 1980s. Aside from that, how could a fan ever complain?

Disc 2
Sky High Percentage
Recorded for a show by British radio legend John Peel in 1976, the opener to disc 2 has a very compressed, studio sound. The song is tight and has a similar production to the original studio version. Bourge’s effected guitar is absolutely fantastic and Shelley’s voice is in fine form. More live tracks from this era would be great to hear as this was the forerunner to the excellent Impeckable album.

In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Arm
Since the original version, from Never Turn Your Back On A Friend, there had been an obvious calm confidence within the group that allowed for the extra reverb on the second guitar track and a funkier element within the spectrum. This would have to be a personal favorite in the grand catalogue of Budgie recordings.

I Turned to Stone
Jumping forward in time once more, this was recorded in 1981as part of the Friday Rock Show series. There is an immediate difference in guitar sound from the last track that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, but in a nice way. A live favorite and superior album track – from Nightflight – the guys are on fire with the dynamic use of clean and distorted guitar sounds along the pumping drums that ease off for Burke’s strangled vocals. It has a great ending with the build-up and blow-by-blow axe licks from Thomas.

Superstar
The recordings for this Friday Rock Show have been done in a studio and they have a very processed sound that are only slightly different from the album versions. The straight rock of “Superstar” wears at the listener due to its similarity to many of the numbers from this period. Having said that, it is always interesting to compare the stylistic differences between the albums in their respective progressions.

She Used Me Up
As above, so below – there feels a need to refer back to Tony Bourge’s influence on the band’s sound and feel. This could be by any rock band of the early ‘80s and I wouldn’t have identified this with Budgie if Shelley’s voice wasn’t as prominent.

Forearm Smash
Following on with this set from 1982’s Reading Festival, there appears to be a doubling up of the same tracks as the Friday Rock Show material. Lindsay Bridgewater provides some keyboards that precede a rocket ship launch and, of course, the launch of Budgie. The recording is excellent, steps above any of the previous on this release. The band seem tighter than the previous version (on disc 1) and there is a fatter overall sound. Burke’s vocals get drowned out at a few points but – hey, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll!

Crime Against The World
The crowd lap the guitar intro up, a guitar intro that sounds exactly like that of the studio version. It is obvious that the band’s sound had become more professional by this time; however the backing vocals do let it down. The song grows on you and I felt that I actually enjoyed this over the Reading 1980 version.

I Turned to Stone
Once again, this crowd pleaser has the Reading audience wrapped up and has a great punchy vibe to it. Inevitably one will always compare the previous version (a mere five songs earlier on this very CD), but the wearing in of the track over the months since have done justice. Shelley’s ability to side with the crowd is always amusing. The mix is punchy and broader with the keyboards, which tie in nicely with the guitar sound. Once again, we get a great ending solo!

Truth Drug
As an added bonus, “Truth Drug” has been included on this CD set, although, again, it was missing from the original radio broadcast. This is a fan favorite and is still performed in current sets. The intensity of the engineer’s mix deserves credit as the build-up from disturbing to outright menacing is brilliant. The keyboards stand out during the guitar solo, but are generally worked into the background throughout. It’s an excellent version of an excellent song!

Superstar
The Reading version of this track was included on the Ecstasy Of Fumbling compilation CD, which makes for an interesting comparison to see how the song fit into the live set (where it directly preceded “Panzer Division Destroyed”). It’s not one of my favorite Budgie tracks but it does highlight the straighter rock period where the boys promoted the Power Supply LP.

She Used Me Up
If Budgie had any disposable songs then this might fit into that category. It has a radio friendly riffy quality about it and manages to be one of the group’s shorter numbers. Again, the recording is superior to the previous Friday Rock Show version but would probably be more at home with a more conventional rock band.

Panzer Division Destroyed
This number was also included on the Ecstasy Of Fumbling disc set and, as final installment of the live document, it’s a heavy way to end proceedings. It’s an assault on the senses, an overkill of sonic frequencies. You’d be hard pressed to find a better version of this track from this ear and it’s obvious that Budgie were on fire for this Reading Festival. It’s a great way to terminate a CD.

 
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